For many years when writing scripts, I simply used that venerable application, Microsoft Word. Hell, I wrote the training script for Microsoft Word IN Microsoft Word way back when.
This involved judicial use of specialist style sheets, the occasional macro, and whilst I happily admit that creating all this stuff – something like building a database – was fun, to get to the result, which is actually writing a script for a video, film, play or musical, was tedious.
You see, while it may seem that a single style sheet / template combination is a one-size-fits-all scenario, the professional script writer will be quick to correct you.
For example, the script style the producers of say, Doctor Who want, is utterly different from the script style for Star Trek. And a musical is different from a play down at the local repertory club.
Additionally, a script is not necessarily the direct line road map of a production from start to finish. There are scene notes, character notes, possible alternatives and more to chuck a spanner in the proverbial works.
And this is where Final Draft 11 comes in.
Final Draft, as the version number hints at, has been around a long, long time, and luminaries no less than JJ Abrams (Lost And Star Trek), Ben Stiller (Zoolander), Matthew Weiner (Mad Men) and Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) extol its virtues.
Some even suggest Final Draft IS the industry standard …
So, what makes it so good?
Well for starters, as you would expect, Final Draft is far more than just a glorified word processor. To start with, there is a function called the Beat Board letting you describe, and therefore have control over, the timing and movement of a production. Generally, it represents a pause in dialogue in a screenplay or in the context of the timing of a film, to an event, decision, or discovery that alters the way a character pursues a goal.
In this latest version, you can also add images allowing stake holders such as directors, camera operators, set designers etc to visualize ideas, and not just follow text. A beat can be colour coded, have its own text style and has other customisable options. You can even drag and drop “assets” between beats.
Another visual aid is the Story Map that appears somewhat like a timeline along the top of your screen. Here you can organise beats and structure points, move them around, plot different milestones in the production and generally, let you see The Big Picture view of the production.
The programmers have given Final Draft “intelligence” too. As you are writing a script for example, it “knows” that if there is dialogue between two people and one has finished speaking, then logically the other character is the next one to start talking, so that person’s name is added automatically ready for you to add the content. If it isn’t, simply overtype with the next character’s name.
If you decide to change a character’s name, Final Draft will automatically change all incidences of the old name to the new one too, including any metadata you have added.
Other elements aiding in the writing / production process include text to speech facilities (and speech to text in some cases), statistics reports (WAY more than Word will give you), a “panel” system allowing you to view and compare different sections of a script in different ways, a format assistant watching over formatting errors and correcting them and an index card system with the script’s scene on one side and a summary on the other.
You can add plot points, act markers, sequences, comments, location information or anything else you wish to help organise your story to an index card.
As I said, MUCH more than a glorified word processor.
The best way I found to learn just how Final Draft can fit into your own specific workflow, and hopw comprehensive its facilities and functions are, is to try it – Mac or PC. You can download a fully functional trial version from www.finaldraft.com, and there are tutorials there too, aiding you getting up to speed.
If you are used to writing scripts, you will find the transition to Final Draft very easy however, and I am willing to bet you’ll never go back.
Final Draft costs USD$249.99 for both Mac and PC.